The second mayoral debate, hosted at Ryerson and moderated by a Ryerson professor, topped the first for snarkiness.
Top mayoral candidates, minus Olivia Chow, faced each other in the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre Thursday night. Law and business professor Ralph Lean invited Rob Ford, John Tory, Karen Stintz and David Soknacki to his class for a panel debate. The event was open to Ryerson students and to community members.
The debate focused on youth unemployment, transit and the Porter airport expansion. On youth unemployment, Soknacki and Tory called for entrepreneurship in City Hall and for youth to be taught to create their own jobs. Stintz, former TTC chair, proposed new subway cars, technology that will allow trains to run closer together and better integration with GO Transit. “Change won’t be big (right away), but it will happen,” she said. On expanding the island airport, Ford was the only one to take a firm stance: Build it now.
In comparison to the televised CityTV debate, when a reporter mentioned the crack scandal in the last few minutes, this forum included more questions about Ford’s behaviour, more heckling and Ford defending himself with the familiar one-liners.
Ford opened with a jibe at competitor John Tory, who called out Ford on his “admitted relationships with convicted criminals and gang types.” “I’d like to thank John for those kind words,” Ford responded. “I’m the only candidate with a track record of success.” Audience members laughed at the familiar tune.
Ford appealed the younger, student audience: “Folks, I invite you to join our team. Youth put me over the top last election and will do so again.” “I have worked with youth more than any candidate ever has. I can guarantee you that when you get out of school and want to hustle, there will be a job for you… There are more cranes than ever in the sky,” Ford said.
Not all students were so convinced. One of the first student questions related to Ford’s behaviour. Ford responded, “I’m not perfect,” another familiar refrain which got a rise out of the audience. Seeing the reaction, Ford said, “Maybe everyone here is.”
Some students in the audience thought the heckling was unnecessary and unprofessional. “I support Rob Ford. I think he’s a good guy; he’s doing really good things for the city. They all have their personal lives, and they keep bringing up his,” said Nazrana Asimi, a second-year criminal justice student.
In a final round of questions, moderator Ralph Lean said, “I’m not happy with crack cocaine or videos of you being drunk. But private time. But you appear to hang out with drug dealers, and they are really bad people. Shouldn’t our mayor be hanging out with better people?”
Ford shot back: “I don’t condone crack cocaine or drug dealers. I condone being the best mayor this city has ever had.”
There were incredulous laughs from some audience members, and shouts of “Answer the question!” A student from the law and business class snapped: “Show some respect!”
Ford insisted he could handle the hecklers. “You can heckle me, if you want, but I’m not going to heckle Olivia when she’s not here,” he said, pointing figures at both Lean and Tory, who had made comments about Chow’s absence and candidacy, respectively.
Olivia Chow was not present at the event, despite being invited in January. Chow’s digital strategist tweeted that Chow did not attend because “Olivia has a scheduling conflict and we have concerns about the moderator’s neutrality.”
Lean had promised to fundraise for Ford and is a well-known Conservative. Lean has since announced he will be a “neutral observer” this election.
The other candidates were eager to draw attention away from Ford. “This is not a referendum on Rob Ford. This is about our city,” Stintz said. “You are the future of our city that will make the decisions.”
When Lean asked Tory about his losing record, Tory took his own share of heckling from Ford. “The mayor is taking joy in the fact that I lost (yesterday’s debate), but you’ll have the experience soon enough,” said Tory. The audience went wild.
Lean closed the night with a challenge to the gathered students and community members: “You don’t like Rob Ford? Get involved. Don’t sit on your asses.”